Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month, thereby shutting down committee hearings into the controversy surrounding his government’s close ties with WE Charity, and how the charity was awarded a lucrative contract to administer the Canada Student Service Grant.
His cynical and anti-democratic ploy has largely worked. Without the committee hearings and the news coverage they would have generated, the scandal that has launched a third federal Ethics Commissioner investigation into the conduct of Mr. Trudeau since he came to power in 2015 is fading into the background.
By the time Parliament reconvenes on Sept. 23 for a Speech from the Throne, and the various committees that were probing the WE scandal eventually get back to work, there is a great risk that the public will have moved on.
That would be a mistake for two reasons. One is that the government’s attempt to circumvent Parliament and dodge accountability should simply not be allowed to stand. The other is that there are two recent revelations that demand further investigation.
The first is that it appears the government tried to mislead the public about who it was that so heavily censored WE Charity documents that were released to members of Parliament in August.
The finance committee issued a production order in July demanding that all government documentation related to the decision to give WE Charity the contract to administer the defunct Canada Student Service Grant be turned over to it by Aug. 8.
The various departments involved submitted more than 5,000 pages of documents, but hundreds were so heavily redacted that it is easy to imagine that there is currently a shortage of black printer toner in federal government offices.
The CBC reported that a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said the redactions, which were done to protect personal information and cabinet confidence, were carried out by the non-partisan Parliamentary law clerk, as was specifically demanded by the finance committee.
But the law clerk, Philippe Dufresne, has said in a letter to the clerk of the finance committee that the documents were in fact censored by government bureaucrats, not by him, and that he can’t be certain that the omissions were justified.
That alone demands more investigation. But there is also the tantalizing question, raised this week by NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus, as to whether Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Youth, misled Parliament about the nature of a meeting involving herself and WE Charity officials, Craig Kielburger included, on April 17.
The government has insisted that the choice of WE Charity to run the student grant program was made by non-partisan civil servants. But the language in several e-mails subsequent to the April 17 meeting suggests that Ms. Chagger told WE Charity to take an existing proposal regarding youth entrepreneurship and adapt it to meet the needs of the new program the Trudeau government was contemplating.
Ms. Chagger did not reveal that she’d had the telephone meeting with WE Charity when she testified before the finance committee in July. After media reported about its existence, she told the ethics committee in August that she hadn’t brought it up because, in her mind, it wasn’t about the Canada Student Service Grant.
But in an e-mail to Ms. Chagger on April 22, Craig Kielburger thanked her for the meeting and said that “our team has also been hard at work to adapt your suggestion of a second stream focused on a summer service opportunity.”
Mr. Angus pointed to other documents that also suggest that Ms. Chagger planted the idea of running the student grant program with WE Charity, and that by April 22 WE Charity was the only option the government was considering.
Did an early meeting with a Liberal cabinet minister seal the deal for WE Charity? And did Ms. Chagger mislead a Parliamentary committee about the nature of that meeting?
These are questions that we might have answers to had Mr. Trudeau not prorogued Parliament. The Prime Minister may hope that he has put the serious issues they raise behind him, and that Canadians will have moved on from the WE Charity scandal by the time fall officially arrives. But it is imperative that the committees he shuttered get back to work, and that these troubling allegations are properly examined.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.